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River Bandits, Royals finalize 10-year partnership
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MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

River Bandits, Royals finalize 10-year partnership

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Young fans with foam fingers line the end of the dugout asking for game balls from Quad Cities River Bandits players during a game at Modern Woodmen Park in 2018.

The Quad Cities River Bandits are now officially a part of the Kansas City Royals family.

The organizations have finalized a 10-year agreement for the River Bandits to become the advanced-A affiliate of Royals, accepting an invitation from the American League club to become part of its player development system beginning this season.

Quad Cities will take the field as a Kansas City affiliate for the first time on May 4, opening a 120-game schedule that includes 60 home games at Modern Woodmen Park during a season that will run through Sept. 19.

River Bandits owner Dave Heller has worked with the Royals for the past seven years as the owner of Kansas City’s previous top Class A club at Wilmington, Del.

He sees the new relationship between the Quad Cities club and the Royals organization as a perfect fit as Major League Baseball remakes it player development operations, reducing the number of minor-league clubs from 160 to the 120 it has signed to 10-year Player Development Licenses.

"The Royals do things the right way. They believe in their farm system and believe in developing their players within that system. My experience has been that they pay real attention to their affiliates, creating a culture that makes you feel as part of something bigger," Heller said.

"Everybody is part of the Royals family, from (Kansas City senior vice president and Moline native) Dayton Moore to Dave Heller to the usher seating fans at Modern Woodmen Park. It’s a great organization and a perfect fit for the River Bandits."

Heller believes the working relationship he had with the Royals with their Carolina League affiliate in Wilmington led to the agreement between the Quad Cities and Kansas City organizations as the 12 remaining former Midwest League teams shifted from the low-A to high-A level.

"There is a comfort level there that has developed over the past seven years," Heller said. "That’s the reason they’re here and the reason why Quad Cities wasn’t among the teams contracted. They want to be in Davenport and the Quad-Cities. It’s a perfect fit for the River Bandits and we’re a perfect fit for Royals."

The River Bandits will now be the second full-season stop for Kansas City prospects, most promoted from Columbia (S.C.) at the low-A level and working their way toward Double-A opportunities at Northwest Arkansas and the Triple-A level at Omaha before reaching the major leagues.

Terms of baseball’s new Player Development League licenses include upgraded stadium standards.

Major-league teams will increase the pay for players from 38%-72% in 2021 and have reconfigured leagues to reduce travel and create better geographical alignment.

Improved player amenities, many centered around the strength and conditioning, nutrition and video needs for today’s generation of players, are also part of the agreement.

Heller plans to work with the Royals to put together a facilities plan that meets Kansas City’s player development needs, with most of the work at Modern Woodmen Park expected to begin after the 2021 season.

"We’re not looking at this as a 10-year agreement. We’re looking at this as a partnership that will last the rest of my lifetime and my son’s lifetime," Heller said. "We’ll work in consultation with the Royals to provide facilities that will help them develop the next Royals World Series champions."

That partnership already includes weekly calls between Heller and River Bandits general manager Joe Kubly with Royals leadership and their peers with Kansas City’s other affiliates.

"It’s a chance to talk about what we’re all working on and that is part of being part of the Royals family," Heller said. "It’s a true partnership."

Kansas City replaces Houston as the parent club of the Quad Cities organization and is the seventh major-league organization the club has been affiliated with since joining the Midwest League as a Milwaukee Braves affiliate in 1960.

The team has also been affiliated with the Angels, Cubs, Twins and Cardinals in its history.

With the affiliation finalized, Heller expects the River Bandits schedule to be announced in coming days.

The total number of games and later start to the 2021 season are both byproducts of the COVID-19 pandemic which canceled the entire 2020 season and will delay the start of spring training at the minor-league level this year.

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